After kicking up quite a fuss, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray finally decided on Wednesday to attend the ceremony to lay the stone foundation of a handful of showpiece projects by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But Thackeray confirmed only after ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assured that he would be given ‘due respect’ at the function — which means sharing the stage with the PM.
Senior BJP ministers Chandrakant Patil and Vinod Tawde visited Matoshree, Thackeray’s residence in Bandra, on Wednesday, to personally deliver the state government’s invite to the Sena chief for the ceremony. According to Sena sources, Thackeray hosted the ministers for around half an hour and accepted the invitation.
Sena leaders had demanded the state government ensure Thackeray is given a seat next to Modi on stage. The Sena was irked the BJP wanted to claim credit for all new projects being launched in the city ahead of the civic polls.
A Sena leader, on the condition of anonymity, said, “Uddhavsaheb has accepted the invitation and will attend the event. There was no discussion on where he would be seated, but the BJP has invited him for the event. It is the majority party in the government and should take a call on how best to ensure respect to Uddhavsaheb.”
Meanwhile, in Pune, the BJP government is ensuring Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar shares the dais with Modi at a function to lay the foundation stone for Pune metro.
On Saturday, Modi will lay the foundation stone for a Rs3,600-crore showpiece Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial in the Arabian Sea, two new Metro lines in Mumbai, and the Sewri-Nhava trans harbour link, ahead of the polls to the cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
Vinayak Mete, leader of Shiv Sangram outfit, who also heads the coordination committee for the Shivaji memorial, said Thackeray will not only attend Modi’s public address at the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) grounds, but will also travel to the site of the Shivaji memorial in the sea with Modi.
The Sena had boycotted a similar function last year when Modi visited Mumbai to lay the foundation stone for a memorial for Dr BR Ambedkar at Indu Mills, and two new Metro rail projects for Mumbai. The Sena’s snub signaled discord between the allies. Sena leaders cited the unceremonious invitation at the eleventh hour to party chief Thackeray as the reason for turning their backs on the event.
However, with Thackeray not holding any public office, BJP leaders and government officials were said to be confused about how to accommodate him on stage next to the prime minister, despite a protocol for such government functions, leading to a last-minute invite.
Not wanting any friction with the alliance partner at this juncture, this time, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis rushed to pacify Thackeray by getting special permission from the prime minister’s office to bend protocol for the event and accommodate the Sena president on the dais.
A Sena leader, on the condition of anonymity, said ideally Thackeray should be seated right next to Modi. “Former Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray also shared the stage with the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and sat next to him. The protocol was managed at that time,” the Sena leader said.
BJP leaders, however, maintain that while Thackeray will be seated on the dais, it would be difficult to give him a place right next to Modi, because the chief minister and the governor will have to be seated on either side of the prime minister.
The Sena has had a choppy relationship with its ally of late, especially with the BMC polls just two months away and there being a cloud of uncertainty over the continuation of a tie-up for the election. While the BJP has time and again voiced its aggressive ambition to grow in Mumbai, the Sena’s home turf, the latter has been trying to stamp its independence from its ally.
It is not just the Sena. The BJP has also avoided friction with the NCP. The latter, which is ruling party in the Pune civic body, had objected to the state government’s decision to organise a function to lay the foundation stone for Pune metro by PM Modi without inviting its NCP chief Sharad Pawar. On Wednesday, it was decided that PM Modi and Pawar will share the dais for the function.